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History and major discoveries of the Institute of Biochemistry

The foundation of an independent Institute for Physiological Chemistry at the Charité took place in 1928 under the direction of Herrmann Steidl. Decades earlier, lectures on physiological chemistry were given to medical students by Felix Hoppe-Seyler, who worked in the Chemistry Department of the Institute of Pathology and founded the scientific journal named after him (magazine for “Physiologische Chemie Hoppe-Seyler”). To this day, the Institute has a firm place in the education of students of human and dental medicine with lectures, seminars and practical courses and also conducts courses in other degree programs (e.g. Bachelor's degree program in nursing sciences.

From 1937-1951, the institute was headed by Karl Lohmann (1898-1978). In 1929, he discovered adenosine triphosphate (ATP) as a universal energy carrier in living organisms. The "Lohmann reaction" named after him, in which the enzyme creatine kinase catalyzes the reversible phosphate transfer from ATP to creatine to form creatine phosphate and ADP, is central to the energy metabolism of excitable cells such as neurons and muscle cells.

From 1952 to 1979, Samuel Mitja Rapoport (1912-2004) was director of the Institute, which was initially housed in a small building at 103a Invalidenstr. Before moving into a new building that was placed in the 3-4 Hessische Str. in 1957. Rapoport had previously discovered the 2,3-bisphosphoglycerate cycle in mature red blood cells (erythrocytes) together with Jane Luebering (Rapoport-Luebering shunt). 2,3-Bisphosphoglycerate regulates the affinity of hemoglobin for oxygen and thus has a significant influence on the oxygen transport capacity of the blood. Rapoport's interest in the maturation and metabolism of red blood cells determined the research profile of the institute for several decades. Particularly noteworthy are the fundamental insights gained into the transcriptional control of globin mRNA by RNA-binding proteins, the role of the enzyme lipoxygenase in mitochondrial membrane degradation, and the regulation of central metabolic pathways of red blood cells, including genetically determined enzyme defects. The study of the diverse biological functions of lipoxygenases remains an important research direction of the institute today.

In the early 1970s, Reinhart Heinrich (1946-2006) and Sam Rapoport, simultaneously with Henrik Kacser and Jim Burns (University of Edinburgh), developed metabolic control theory, a now widely used method for quantifying the regulatory influence of individual enzymes on steady-state metabolic turnover in metabolic networks. Since this pioneering work, the mathematical modeling of metabolic processes has become an intensively worked research focus worldwide, which continues to be worked on at the Institute.

After Rapoport's retirement, the leadership of the institute passed into the hands of Gerhard Gerber in 1979. Under his direction, the work on metabolic research was expanded to include studies on the degradation of adenine nucleotides and the formation of free radicals, especially under ischemic conditions. In addition to red blood cells, other tissues (kidney, liver, ascites tumors) were also studied.

In 1993, the Institute recruited Peter-Michael Kloetzel, who served as its director until 2014. Under his leadership, the Institute focused on studies of the ubiquitin-proteasome system. On the one hand, the proteasome plays an important role as a central protease for the control of the cellular protein pool (proteostasis); on the other hand, the peptides produced during protein degradation and presented at the cell surface serve as ligands for T-cell recognition by the immune system. With fundamental work on the regulation of the proteasome by the protein complex PA28, the characterization of proteasomally generated peptides and the role of the proteasome in inflammatory responses, the institute developed into an internationally leading institution in the field of proteasome research. After several moves, the institute found its final location for the time being in the Charité Cross-Over Building (CCO) of Basic Medicine on the grounds of Campus “Mitte”.

Currently, the Institute of Biochemistry is undergoing structural rearrangements, to represent itself as a department, created through the merge of the Institute of Biochemistry with the Institute of Cellular Biochemistry. The Department is jointly headed by Britta Eickholt, recruited to the Charité in  2014, and Markus Ralser, who was recruited 2019 (Please see our research pages.)

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